Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Bunkers of South Beach
AJ Robinson

Usually, if you mention "South Beach", people will think of the area near Miami, Florida. Well, the South Beach of Martha's Vineyard is quite different. As its name implies, it's on the south end of the island. In fact, it encompasses the entire south shore of the island, and runs from Gay Head (Aquinnah) on the west to Chappaquiddick on the east. The old joke among islanders is that every other year the thin strip of beach that connects the Island to "Chappy" gets washed out, and then the two are truly separate islands.

As a kid, it was a rather "wild" place to go; it always had such monstrously huge waves (at least from my point of view), and I never understood why. Town Beach, State Beach - they were always calm and gently. South Beach, it was a place to go and not swim, and we always understood that. Yet, the thing I didn't understand was why there was a bunker there. It was a massive thing, a great tower of concrete, and it sat right at the water's edge. It was the ultimate in beach-going fun!

My father explained to me where it had come from. Many years ago, back during World War II, coastal defenses had been built all along the East Coast of the United States. The Island was no exception. All along South Beach, concrete bunkers were constructed in order to repel any German invasion. Of course, that invasion never came. Yet, the bunkers remained. Well, some twenty years later, only one remained on land - just barely. The others had all slipped into the sea. I imagine today, no such things could ever be built - environmentalists would raise an almighty stink! And they'd certainly not be left to slide into the ocean.

Things were different waaaayyyyy back then. So, the bunker sat there, slowly sliding into the Atlantic Ocean, and it was our play place. The back, which faced the beach, was wide open. So, being the playful boys that I and my friends were, we naturally did what any boys would do when presented with such an opening - we went inside. It was just a large open room in there. No, no canons or machine guns left behind; no old fashion radios to fiddle with or even a ladder to climb. Just an open room with a few twisted pieces of rebar sticking out of the ceiling. You may have seen that before; it's the long metal rods that are put in concrete walls to give them strength.

So, how did we have fun in such a place? There's an old saying about real estates: "Location-location-location! That's what's important". Such was the case with the bunker. As it sat right at the water's edge, waves would break over the bunker, come around the back on all sides, and then rush inside. We would stand there, hold onto the twisted and rusty bars, and let the water gush over us; hours and hours of fun. Somehow, I'll never know how, we never cut ourselves, got swept out to sea or drowned. Yes, I know; today, such a situation would no doubt result in a lawsuit.

They say that time and tide waits for no man. In this case, in this aspect of my childhood, that was no mere saying - it was literally true. Long before my teen years, that final bunker had slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic to join its brothers. That was the first piece to my childhood that I ever lost, and it truly hurt. It was the first time I considered that other aspects of my life could one day end. At the time, I dismissed such ideas as silly. After all, life was good - how could it ever change?

Such is the mind of a child. I think, of all the aspects of my childhood, that is the thing I truly miss the most.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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